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Advertising Interviews

Suman Srivastava

CEO | 21 Aug 2009

I think we are still very TV-centric and need to grow our capabilities in other disciplines. Also, while we tend to do great work for theme ads, we treat tactical advertising like stepchildren. That’s not how the consumer sees it. We need to handle those with the same love and affection as the theme ads.

Suman Srivastava was one of the founders of Euro RSCG in 1996 and was Head of its Mumbai office for three years before moving on to Strategic Planning. He has worked on several FMCG, durables, technology and services clients in earlier assignments. He was seconded as Brand Manager to Unilever for a year.

Srivastava has been closely involved with brands such as Surf, Parachute, Fair & Lovely, Hair & Care, Novartis Calcium Sandoz, Evian, Philips, Intel, Allwyn, Voltas, Microsoft, Sony Entertainment Television, Wipro Software, State Bank of India, HDFC Bank, Dabur, and NIIT.

He conducts training programmes for Euro RSCG personnel in India and abroad. He has also spoken at workshops on marketing conducted for employees of Microsoft, Wipro, Intel and IndianOil. Through a 19-year career in advertising, Srivastava has also worked with Lintas and SSC&B Lintas in Mumbai.

He is an Economics graduate and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

In a freewheeling conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Srivastava talks about Euro RSCG’s growth in India, fighting out the economic slowdown, and the way ahead for the Indian advertising industry.

Q. It has been two decades since you have been part of the advertising industry. According to you, how has the industry shaped up over the years? Any alarming facts to be observed comparatively?

Over the last two decades, the advertising industry has evolved for the better. I think the quality of the work that we do is much superior to the work done then. Earlier, a lot of advertising were derivative of western advertising. Today, we can be proud of an Indian school of advertising. Earlier, brand propositions didn’t need to work very hard since there was limited competition. Today, the reverse is true.

Q. Euro RSCG Worldwide undertakes various surveys and studies to understand the trends in advertising. Any recent studies that you have undertaken and that you would like to share with us...

We have a series of papers that are titled “The future of _____”. Thus, we have a study on the “Future of retail”, another on the “Future of luxury”, and the most recent one on the “Future of value”. These studies are shared with clients and potential clients for whom these studies are relevant.

Q. Do you see an increase in mergers and acquisitions by international networks of Indian advertising agencies? Does this mean that the stranglehold of foreign agencies will increase further?

Acquisitions take place because there are strong local agencies available to acquire. So before M&As can happen, you need local entrepreneurs to create strong agencies. We can see around us small boutique agencies opening up – in creative, digital, events, PR – you name it. In due course, these agencies will get acquired, but that is not about a stranglehold of foreign agencies. It is more of a tribute to Indian talent.

Q. Please share your views on the new media and digital landscape and what role advertising agencies can play to harness the potential of these mediums.

Our view of new media is the same as our view of old media. We think it is wrong to think of digital or new media agencies as a separate discipline. We don’t have a separate TV division, so why have a separate digital division? You may have a production facility for digital that is separate and staffed with specialists.

Q. Please take us through the growth that Euro RSCG has seen on the revenue front in the last three years?

We have grown at more than 30 per cent per annum for the last three years.

Q. What is the growth target for 2009?

It all depends on how the slog overs pan out (we have a January-December year). We are optimistic about the next four months and expect to end the year with a small growth over last year.

Q. How much has the current economic slowdown affected the Indian advertising industry?

We’ve had our share of problems. In general, the multinationals (clients and agencies) were more cautious than the Indian companies when the downturn started. That negativism spread through the whole economy. But now things are looking up again.

Q. During the slowdown, many advertisers took extreme steps to brave it. When things are back to normal, how do you think these steps would have changed the industry?

It would make us leaner and meaner. Speaking about talent and the slowdown, there was a sudden hiring freeze. Now, as we are seeing some sign of recovery, there is again a buzz of hiring happening across levels.

Q. And on what criteria’s are these hirings taking place?

Agencies are now making the most critical hires. In our case, we are also hiring some people to accelerate growth.

Q. How is Euro RSCG tackling the problem of talent crunch in the industry and retaining skilled people? Is there any specific strategy for that?

Yes, we are doing a bunch of different things to retain people. It covers a wide gamut – from better structured salaries, to training programmes, to welfare activities. The objective is not to reach zero per cent attrition. The objective is to ensure that people are happy and contribute at a high level when they are with us.

Q. Lately, many agencies, including Euro RSCG have announced internal elevations/ promotions. But these promotions have come without any increments. Is it impacting in retaining talent?

Recognition is often as important as rewards in retaining people. When you can’t afford to reward, you can still afford to recognise. Rewards will follow soon.

Q. What are the weak points of the Indian advertising industry today that, according to you, need to be addressed?

I think we are still very TV-centric and need to grow our capabilities in other disciplines. Also, while we tend to do great work for theme ads, we treat tactical advertising like stepchildren. That’s not how the consumer sees it. We need to handle those with the same love and affection as the theme ads.

Q. What are the areas that Indian advertising practitioners need to focus on to create a wider global impact?

Our people are smart and many have already created a mark on the global scene. But, we need to be a little bit more process-oriented and much more punctual in our work. If we tighten up on those areas, Indians can dominate the global arena.

Q. What are the two things that you would like to change about the Indian clients?

I don’t want to change anything, I just want more of them!

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